The National Zoo’s great cat program has recently expanded with the arrival of 2 1/2-year-old female Sumatran tiger, Damai, who is now out of quarantine and spending time outside in her exhibit where visitors can see her. The National Zoo plans to bring a male tiger in to breed with Damai later this year, as recommended by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan for Sumatran tigers, which matches animals across the country to ensure genetic diversity in the population.
“Every time we get a new animal, it’s a learning experience for us because each animal is different,” said Leigh Pitsko, a tiger keeper at the Zoo. “We can already tell that Damai is a great tiger. She’s sweet, very calm and curious about everything going on around her. Visitors will really enjoy watching her and learning about her species.”
Damai’s genetics are not well represented among tigers in human care in North America, and she is therefore a highly valued animal within the SSP. The SSP opted to send her to the National Zoo because of its success in breeding Sumatran tigers and other cats, such as cheetahs and lions. The Zoo’s last litter of tigers was born in 2006 to female Soyono, who is 17 years old and has had three litters.
Conservationists believe there are fewer than 3,500 tigers left in the wild as the result of poaching and habitat loss. Not only is the Zoo helping to ensure that the North American population of tigers in human care is sustainable, but the Zoo’s Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute leads the Global Tiger Initiative in partnership with the World Bank, the 13 tiger-range countries in Asia and other organizations. Tiger conservationists are meeting in Bhutan this week to develop recommendations for preserving tiger conservation landscapes in the country by looking at regional infrastructure planning tools, approaches to sustainable tourism, roads and hydropower projects. By working with wildlife officers, field managers, researchers and policymakers, the Global Tiger Initiative aims to double the number of tigers in the wild by 2022—the next year of the tiger in the Chinese zodiac calendar.
“Because the Zoo plays such a large role in the Global Tiger Initiative, we want to make sure we’re doing our part to keep a healthy population in human care,” said Marie Magnuson, a tiger keeper at the Zoo. “Ultimately we hope to have cubs here again. Because tigers are so highly endangered, every tiger born is a victory.”
The Zoo is now home to three Sumatran tigers: Damai, Soyono and Soyono’s 5-year-old offspring, Guntur. Pitsko and Magnuson will be training Damai, who came from the San Diego Safari Park, to exhibit a number of behaviors that will allow the Zoo’s veterinarian team to draw blood, give injections and conduct ultrasounds without having to anesthetize her.
The Great Cats exhibit at the Zoo has a new look with signs that provide up-to-date information about the species and highlight tiger conservation work and interactive alcoves. Visitors can touch a used boomer ball (a huge, nearly indestructible ball) that shows lion or tiger teeth and scratch marks and listen to roars and other vocalizations.
Visitors to the National Zoo’s website can view the tigers on awebcam and read about their activities through updates from the Zoo’s tiger keepers. For more news, follow the Zoo’s Twitter feed and Facebook page.
Posted: 27 May 2011